Starting an Aquarium - Marine the Very First Considerat

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When you see pictures of healthy marine fish or reef aquariums in books or even visit  public aquariums you will notice just how beautiful they are. 

Some will ask if they can have one and that is as far as they get with the idea but a few will want to know more about the idea of having their own aquarium.

If you already know someone who has a health marine aquarium then you can ask them for advice and guidance.  You will find that most people who have a marine aquarium will be more than happy to help.  If like most of us you will need to find the information you need for yourself.  This is not quite as bad as it sounds. 

This means you will have an understanding of how the system works and how to keep it working, you will also need to have a understanding of the information to be able to apply it.

In this guide we will assume that you don't know a good marine aquarist.

What Not to Do

My advice would be not to run down to the local shop and buy the first aquarium and the bits they say you need.  This not to say that the assistant will give you bad advice or sell the wrong things to you. 

The First Move
Your best option would be to follow a plan.  The plan will be your foundation for the decisions you make when building the aquarium.  There are several decisions to be made along the way and at times some of these decisions can be quite confusing even to someone experienced in freshwater aquariums.

This plan will also help prepare you in costing for the basic equipment needed.  Some marine aquarist have equipment around the house, sometimes due to upgrading the equipment because they didn't't have a plan and found the equipment they purchased did't do the job right and need to be replaced.  The extra cost may not have been needed if they had a plan in the first place.

The Plan

This plan does not attempt to be a comprehensive list, but is a basic guide to get you started.  This plan will change as you need to consider something you did't think of at first.  This should and does happen and it means you plan is working.

Research is a must and research on the Internet is for a lot of people easier than reading books.  As with any research done on-line care must be taken with any information you find.

Where to site the Aquarium

You should choose a place away from direct sunlight and there should not be a lot of noise or lots of people walking past all the time.  You will also need a reliable power supply, are you power sockets easy to access.

If you have floors that are suspended will they be strong enough as a tank with water and fish can be very heavy.

Size of Aquarium

An aquarium should stand on a properly designed stand and not on you furniture.  The tank may also need a hood this will also need to be taken into account.

System Type

Do you want a Sump or Not

The sump is a small aquarium attached to the main tank.  It will supply extra water capacity to the system.  It will also keep heaters, sand beds and protein skimmers out of the way of the display area.  The sump can either be at the side or underneath the display tank.  A sump on the system is recommended.

If you decide to have a sump you will need to drill the main aquarium to allow the connections to take the water from the aquarium to the sump and also allow it to be pumped back again.

If a deep sand bed (DSB) or a raised (DSB) is to be used the sand bed needs to be at least 2/3 of the base area of the main aquarium and should be at least 4 inches deep.  You will also need to consider the cost of fine sand for the DSB. A DSB is recommended in the sump.  You will need to leave room for a partition for the sea water to return pump.


Is your system a fish only or reef tank.  If the tank is fish only you will two marine fluorescent lights, how ever if it is a reef tank then you will need.

Hard Corals

The best lighting is halide,supplemented by actinic fluorescent tubes.  T5 fluorescent tubes can be used.  Marine white and actinic mixed equally. 

Soft Corels

You can use T5 fluorescent lighting (actinic and white mixed).  You can also use Halide lighting, however you should ensure the corels exposed are light demanding varieties.

Sea Water Capacity

The capacity of the tank and sum if used is easily calculated once the size of tank and sump have been decided.  This will be quite a large amount of water, but once the sand, rocks are added it will decrease and thus reduce the amount of water by 10%.  This will not be the correct amount but give a reasonable allowance for displacement.

Circulation of Seawater

The water in an aquarium will need to be circulated for the health of the  inhabitants whatever they are, but particularly in a reef system.  It is recommended that you use at least two power-heads are used.  When a we look at a reef system it need to be ten to twenty time the net capacity of the aquarium excluding the sump per hour.  This will also depends on the corel occupants.  In a fish only aquarium it can be less.

The Protein skimmer

This is an essential item for most systems.  If you are new marine aquariums then it is recommend that you should have one.  This piece of equipment is very useful as it helps towards high water quality.  It should be sized for about twice the aquariums seawater capacity, this should also include the sump.  You need to decide whether to use a hang-on or stand alone skimmer.


When the amount of water is know you can consider the heating.  It is recommended that you buy two heaters as this will allow a backup in case of failures.  Each heater should be half of the total heating requirements. 

The Return Pump

This will only apply if you are using a sump.  When seawater has reached the sump it will need to be returned to the main aquarium.  A pump is needed for this.  The pump should be two or three times the net capacity of the system per hour.  When looking for a pump remember to include the lift that is the height from the pump to the highest that the returning will reach before it enters the main aquarium.

Live Rock

This is used for filter purposes, it is very good for this.  It is also used for the construction of the reef.  This can also be used in the fish only aquarium.  You should allow about 1 1/2 pounds for each gallon that is in your entire system.  You will find several options for filtering your system but live rock and DSB (Deep Sand Bed) in the sump are recommended methods.

The Reverse osmosis (R/O)

This is a tap water filtration product that will remove nearly all unwanted contaminants.  Approx 95 to 98%
This makes the seawater its best from the start.  It is highly recommended that R/O water is always used.  This should also be used when you first fill the aquarium.  These units come in different gallons per day outputs.

An aquarium is only filled completely once and the normal process is to change 10% of the net amount of water weekly.

Dry Salt

There are several makes on the market today, but if keeping a reef aquarium get one that is designed for reefs as they have had more attention paid to the calcium content.  The fish only aquariums can use the standard mixes.

Make the List

I hope this has been of help to you and you can see why we should make a list.  This will not only help with the equipment needed for your aquarium but will also help with the costing of the equipment.  I have tried to cover a lot of what you will need but not all of it.  It will depend on what you want in your aquarium and how much you have to spend.

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